View Full Version : Re: Bionet controversial topic #7: What abiomechanicsdatarepository should contain in order to be valuable?

Ton Van Den Bogert
04-24-2002, 02:23 AM
Rainer Goellner wrote:

> To summarize it very abridged: You'll need a
> "charismatic" leader to gather people around
> him, and you need lots of people being concerned
> with the theme in a very personal way. While
> these prerequesites may eventually be feasible
> in parts of our community, the consequence will not:
> People get paid in kudos, not in citation indices
> or anything else, what would be of any worth in
> the official evaluation of their work.
> It's a pity, but I fear, it's like that,

I think Rainer's observations are accurate. I started a data repository as
part of the website for the International Society of Biomechanics. The
repository still exists (http://isb.ri.ccf.org/data) but has not had new
contributions for the past two years. The main objectives were:
- to help students who do not have access to laboratory equipment
- to provide benchmark data for software testing
- to share data that is expensive or time consuming to collect
Most of the content was obtained by asking people directly for specific
contributions. Rarely has somebody refused to share their data.

So this is certainly not a "grass roots" effort, and Rainer is right that it
takes a leader who is willing to put in a lot of effort. Such effort is
generally not rewarded by employers, so we depend on idealism.

A good example, already mentioned, is Chris Kirtley's Clinical Gait Analysis
site at http://guardian.curtin.edu.au/cga/. And of course, the fact that Biomch-L
exists and you are reading this message is only because of the idealism and vision
of the late Herman Woltring.

Sharing of information is the essence of science, and these days we need
more than journal publications to do that effectively. It is encouraging that
our government agencies are beginning to see that. NIH has recently announced
a draft policy for data sharing, see

I wonder if anyone has considered asking for government funding to operate
a biomechanics data repository, similar to the "virtual human" project
mentioned by Marco Viceconti (http://www.ornl.gov/virtualhuman). This
would be one way to make this effort show up on a performance evaluation.

But still, it will probably not result in publications, so how can such
effort be appropriately rewarded? What if operating a peer-reviewed data repository
would be seen as equivalent to being editor of a scientific journal? And contributing
to such a repository as equivalent to publishing in a journal? Data would have to
be accompanied by a complete description of how the data was generated, and this
part would require peer review.

Journals are beginning to offer data repository services with articles, see for
example http://www.jbiomech.com, click on "supplemental data".
This is a good development, but the data are not organized or structured in any
way. It takes a different focus to build an effective data repository.

We may also learn some lessons from the genomic and proteomic databases.
There are both free (government funded) services and commercial services.
See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi and look past PubMed.
It is interesting to see how these databases refer to journal articles and
patents for further information.
See http://www.celera.com/genomics/commercial/home.cfm for a commercial

Here in the U.S. we are getting increasing pressure from our institutions to
generate and protect (not share!) intellectual property. This was encouraged
by the 1980 Bayh-Dole act in which the government gave up the rights to
intellectual property that is generated with federal funding. See
http://www.nih.gov/news/stemcell/080101freire.htm . It is good that NIH is now
setting some rules to make sure that this does not harm the science. If
everybody needs grants to re-invent the wheel, this would be an enormous waste
of taxpayer's money, as well as slow down progress.

I would like to end with some caution. If we emphasize the data too much,
we risk going back to the 19th century approach of collecting without understanding.
This approach has given us wonderful collections and Natural History Museums,
and Muybridge's huge and often bizarre collection of human and animal
movement data. Nevertheless, we must understand that collecting data is
only a very small part of proper scientific method. Journal publications are still
the best way to present our work: starting with good questions, then doing
experiments, presenting results, and finally drawing conclusions. Is it possible
that, in genomic and proteomic research, data is emphasized so much because there
still is very little understanding? If that is the case, we biomechanists may be
more advanced than we think...

Since NIH has asked for feedback on their draft policy, I will send them a
summary of this Biomch-L discussion. Further comments are welcome!

Ton van den Bogert, Biomch-L co-moderator


A.J. (Ton) van den Bogert, PhD
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Cleveland Clinic Foundation
9500 Euclid Avenue (ND-20)
Cleveland, OH 44195, USA
Phone/Fax: (216) 444-5566/9198

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